Column: Human Rights, Equality Act & More

[Opinion column written by OBA candidate for Constituency 1, St George’s North Tia Smith]

Equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in terms of status, rights and opportunities”. The Human Rights Act, as currently enshrined in law, prohibits discrimination in employment, among other types of discrimination, on the basis of any protected category, which includes race, location origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other characteristics.

Having a job is important. It is equally important to have the opportunity to get a job, to have that job, to keep that job without fear of being discriminated against. Just as we would not want to stay where we are unwanted in social settings, the same, and more, can be said of the workplace. Especially since we spend the majority of our time in this space. The idea that the Bermuda job market is no place for Bermudians is a concept believed and lived by too many of us.

This is a hot topic for Bermuda, especially in recent years and including during the pandemic with all of its unique challenges. Bermuda, like the rest of the world, has experienced unprecedented volatility in the job market during Covid, which has affected both Bermuda and expats…However, the uniqueness of our situation has meant that Bermuda has suffered the brunt of this downturn.

We hold the majority of jobs in the sectors most affected by the closures, but even before that there had long been calls that the labor market, at all levels, was unfairly tilted towards three main categories – expats , the white Bermudians and, after the two those, the black females. Black men unfortunately come last on this list. This is supported by information provided periodically by the government and anecdotally.

Too often on Bermuda social media sites people complain about being unfairly discriminated against when it comes to getting and keeping a job, as well as just being interviewed for that job. Many posts point to job openings with requirements that they claim are obviously far removed from the average Bermudian. We all hear horror stories, and many have their own examples to share. Unfortunately, we are hearing more and more people claim that reporting to the HRC is useless, so why bother?

The Human Rights Act currently provides for the possibility of filing a complaint of perceived discrimination with the Human Rights Commission, after which an investigation can be launched if the complaint is found to be founded. However, this can be an onerous process, given that in addition to dealing with complaints, the HRC has a lot to do as the body responsible for overseeing all aspects of human rights, including educational and information so that the general public understands their rights.

Our proposed amendment to the law proposes solutions to combat unfair employment practices. The Equality Act 2021 aims to provide a broad remedy to tackle this. It seeks to provide a presumption of equality in our laws and introduces fines for employers for unequal pay. It is seeking to create an Equality Council at the HRC to better promote equality and training in the workplace and it is expanding its remit by giving the Employment Tribunal the power to hear complaints of discrimination. In addition, the bill also proposes equal representation on government boards and quangos.

Excerpt from the law

OBA Bill Bermuda Equality Act 2021 House

It seeks to restore dignity to Bermudians by restoring our faith that our voice is heard when we report employment discrimination. Ultimately, it is trying to level the playing field that has for too long placed parts of the population above others. The right to employment free from discriminatory practices is a fundamental necessity to help give each of us the chance to survive and thrive in our island home.

-Tia Smith

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